AB Thinks  →  7th August 2017

Social responsibility in visual communication

AB Thinks

“Advertising, rightly seen, is all about people. And about how to use words and pictures to persuade people to do things, feel things and believe things… About their wants, their hope, their tastes, their fancies, their secret yearnings, their customs and taboos.” How to Become an Advertising Man (1963) by James Webb Young

Here at AB, we speak a lot about effective and positive communication. But the two weekdays I’m not at AB, I spend researching the opposite – the effects of negative communications and stereotyped messages.

As I approach the last few months of my master’s degree in graphic design, I am preparing to put an entire year’s research into a thesis, accompanied by an informative and critical design artefact.

For the past year, I have been examining whether stereotypical Western ideas of Saudi women are represented in advertising in Saudi Arabia (KSA) and if this has affected women’s rights in the country.

It is clear to me that the representation of the Saudi woman remains dated. Take for example IKEA’s 2012 catalogue where women in the Saudi Arabian version were photoshopped out or the first issue of Vogue Arabia, published in March this year, when a veiled non-Muslim Western woman was used on the cover.

These two examples caused a stir in the debate on women’s rights, especially as these design decisions were not made at the behest of the Saudi government but by the corporations concerned, who claim to be socially responsible.

A solid understanding of cultural beliefs is essential when it comes to creating effective advertising. Academics agree that in KSA, where the subject of women is sensitive, adverts directed towards, or about women, need to improve.

Western brands in Saudi Arabia, often avoid taking a political stand. However, by distributing their communication across the country, these corporations are making social statements. This poses some challenging but important questions. Would an automotive company publish an advert with a woman driver in the KSA?

If you are curious about this project, keep an eye out for the Postgraduate Show at the London College of Communication in the first week of December!

Official IKEA catalogue, 2012, left International release, right Saudi Arabian release.

Vogue Arabia, first issue, March 2017.